Tanvi Lonkar was 12 years old when she starred in the Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire" while living in Mumbai, India.
A decade later and a world away, she's using another creative outlet to express herself and advocate for women's equality from Milledgeville.
The Georgia College senior, who played the youthful version of the character Latika in the 2008 movie, came to America four years ago to continue her education. Having grown up in the crowded city of Mumbai, she chose the Milledgeville college because of its smaller size and close-knit atmosphere, and she had a cousin who lived there. She'll graduate in May with a degree in psychology and a minor in painting.
Lonkar has drawn since she was a child, but she didn't get serious about studying art until two years ago. Almost all of her works are themed around women, painted in bold colors and a smooth, almost surrealist style.
Four of Lonkar's paintings will be featured in a Women's History Month exhibit that runs March 30 to April 6 at The HUB at Georgia College's Blackbridge Hall. The portraits of Tibetan, Ethiopian, Indian and Scandinavian women are part of her "Women of the World" series. She created her own compositions after research on the cultures and interviews. She's now working on a painting of a Mexican woman, as well as a separate series of small ink drawings.
Lonkar was able to merge her interests in art and psychology through her "Women of the World" series, said Valerie Aranda, a professor of art, drawing and painting at the school. Her clarity and vision shine through her artwork and her attention to detail.
“From the first class I had with Tanvi, I could tell her enthusiasm for art but also her very distinct point of view and talent," Aranda said. "I think (the series) is powerful. I think the topic reflects her interest in issues around the world and issues of social justice and the role that art plays in our society.”
A mural by Lonkar hangs inside Metropolis Cafe in downtown Milledgeville. Her artwork will grace the cover and inside pages of the April issue of "The Peacock's Feet Journal," Georgia College's literary magazine, and be displayed at Blackbird Coffee in downtown Milledgeville in May.
"I have always been wanting to empower women in some way," Lonkar said. "It started with me being interested in faces, and I always thought that painting women was more beautiful. But it moved to other reasons. I started knowing all these issues that are going on in the world with equality. I can use women in this form to kind of spread out this message."
Lonkar said working on the set of "Slumdog Millionaire" was amazing, and attending the Oscars was a "dream experience." But it wasn't until a few years after the film that she fully understood the character she had portrayed. Latika was an orphaned girl who was kidnapped and forced into prostitution.
She was bullied at school for playing that role, and for a time she was "passively mad" at her parents for allowing her to do the movie, she said. But looking back now, she's grateful for that experience and realizes it made her a better person, shaped her voice and benefited her in many ways. It triggered the passion within her for social justice.
"Just knowing stuff like that happens in some parts of my own country breaks my heart," she said. "That's what I learned from 'Slumdog.' It opened my eyes a lot. It kind of became a part of me and a part of my personality to do something about it."
After graduation, Lonkar hopes to work for a year in the nonprofit world and then study special education in graduate school. Art will always be a part of her life, she said, and she will continue to paint and increase her body of work.
Lonkar hopes her artwork will help people see all women as confident, beautiful and equal — and appreciate different cultures.